The portrait featured is of A.B. Caldwell. In 1829 Caldwell was born in the Caldwell Inn, which stood on the National Road, west of the “S” Bridge. At the age of 16, he began work as a clerk at Stillwagon’s general store in Claysville, and he would later become a partner in the business. After selling his part of the business in 1852, he began working as the manager for William Smith and Son, which was located in the Smith Iron Front Building on North Main Street in Washington. In 1865 Caldwell decided to go into business for himself. He purchased a lot on the west side of Main street, across from the courthouse, and constructed a three-story building. The first floor was set up as Caldwell’s General Store, and he rented the top two floors. As the business continued to develop, he expanded his business into the entire building, and eventually had to rent space in the adjacent building to accommodate the growing demand.
Upon his death in 1892, the A.B. Caldwell Co. was formed by his family with his son, Charles, as manager. After another generation of the family owning the business, it was sold to the S.W. Metzler Co. in 1941 and renamed Cox’s Caldwells, and eventually shortened to Cox’s. What is very significant about the building is that it was the first department store in Washington County to have wooden escalators, which were installed in the late 1920s. It was also the first building in the county to feature a pneumatic tubing system that was used to transport money from sales to a central cashier who would make change and return the correct change, or to reference credit reports for patrons.
As for A.B. Caldwell: Although he was best known for his general store, he was also involved in the oil and gas business that boomed in the area during the 1880s. Apart from his business interests, he was a naturalist and maintained a conservatory at his home on East Wheeling. He was always willing to host children from local schools to show them the wide variety of plants that he kept on site.
Charles Edgar is research librarian for the Washington County Historical Society.